No bones about it, auction rules should be included somewhere in your catalog. Maybe even at the registration desk. And online.
Printed auction rules serve as the governing principles of the auction and can help mitigate problems.
(You might also be interested in reading, “What not to do when the auction winner doesn’t pay.”)
Over the past year I’ve had two episodes that brought the topic of auction rules to the forefront.
At one auction, a woman seated at a sponsored table enthusiastically bid in the live auction, resulting in her winning a package she later decided she could not afford. She told the auction committee that instead of paying for the package, she would make a donation amounting to 11% of her winning bid.
At another event, a guest purchased a travel package and immediately called his wife with the good news. She was less enthusiastic. Before leaving that night, he asked my client if the package could just be sold to someone else. A flabbergasted Board member responded with, “But the auction is over!”
If auction rules are printed in your catalog or program, they may help you feel more confident in taking on remorseful bidders. You might say, “Let’s see what the terms say,” and flip to the appropriate section of the catalog.
In a commercial auction, terms and conditions are provided as buyers register for the auction. As they arrive onsite (or sign-on, in the case of an online auction), they may need to provide proof of identification (like a driver’s license) and sign a document indicating they have read the rules of the auction. Those terms might be posted around the facility, or even printed on the back of the customer’s bid card.
Though times are changing, fundraising auction rules haven’t traditionally been so formalized. There are still some nonprofit auctions whereby buyers don’t even “register” until after they have purchased an item. At those events, the nonprofit doesn’t know who was bidding on the items until a package has been bought. At such an auction, it would be hard to suggest that a buyer knew the rules if they didn’t have to register!
Some clients have a set of rules for the entire auction. Others have rules for various activities taking place at the gala.
Overarching auction rules might be called “Auction Rules” or “House Rules.” These rules cover elements that apply to all activities or all items.
For instance, you might state …
- age restrictions on the purchase of alcohol
- required sales tax percentages
- your policy for items that cannot be used by buyers (such as surgical or cosmetic procedures that are purchased, but the buyer later learns he is not a candidate for the procedure)
- items are sold “as is” (you might even describe what “as is” means)
- a blanket expiration dates for packages without a specific expiration date
Some feel that the very use of the word “rules” casts a depressing vibe on their fundraising gala. “Who wants to go to a party and follow rules,” they say.
If “rules” sound harsh, soften the name.
- The Fine Print
- Auction Etiquette
- Auction Procedures
If you have a number of activities at your auction fundraiser, you might want to list specific rules for specific activities.
- Live Auction Rules
- Blind Bid Auction Rules
- Heads or Tails Rules
To see approaches to this subject and other ideas, here’s a tip.
Browsing through the auction catalogs and programs of well-run galas is a hands-on way to become inspired with ideas for your own fundraiser.
Reviewing the pages of other events can jump-start your own creativity for fresh items, activities, sponsor recognition, timelines, and on occasion, rules.